A few weeks ago, I had my first taste of a unique expatriate experience, that of hashing. Hashing is an activity that combines running and drinking, organized by a local chapter of a worldwide group called the Hash House Harriers. Hashing started with a few British expatriates in Malaysia in the 1930s, and it has spread across the globe, especially in this part of the world. You can find a hash in Singapore probably 25 days of the month. The one I went to was the Friday night hash put on by the Lion City H3 Club. The brother of a friend at Sabre in Southlake lives in Singapore (what a small world), and he and his wife are big time hashers. In fact, they met on a hash.
Being part of a group of hashers is like living an alternate life. They have their own language, they call each other by their "hash names", and they think that a good time on a Friday night is running for an hour or 90 minutes through, up, over, and under just about anything. My friend and his wife have their own hash names, but they are collectively known to their fellow Lion City H3 hashers as the Velcro Twins, since they were essentially inseparable after they met on a hash.
Each week's hash is set up by one or a few "hares", the hosts that mark the trail with either chalk, paper, or flour. The group then sets out at the designated time (6pm sharp for these folks), searching for the trail. The problem is, the trail isn't so easily followed. Part of the fun of the hash are the "T" stops or "Circle" stops, places where the trail ends, leaving the group to pick up the trail (a "T" stop means you have to backtrack, as the trail invisibly branched somewhere before you got to the "T"; if you reach a circle, that means the trail can be found again somewhere near - not necessarily backward - but it is usually a challenge to find). Once the trail is found again, the signal is given: a shout of "On On!", and the pack is off again. "On On" is short for "Onward!", and it gets everybody going once again. "On On" is just one of the many phrases that make up the hashers own unique language. In fact, when I read the weekly newsletter, I had no idea what it said, and it was written in English!
Hashers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Some are very good runners and sprint out front. Others walk the entire time. Most fall somewhere in between. This hash featured participants from 16 years to probably 60 years old.
The hash took me through open parkland, over locked fences, underneath streets into drainage ditches, up through brambles and overgrown backwoods, and back into drainage ditches for hunched over walks of 50 metres or more, through ankle-deep water. It was exhausting and exhilarating all at once! I ran, jogged, walked, nearly crawled, stumbled, and then trotted for just over an hour, reaching the finish line (the host's house) just after 7pm. And then the fun began.
As I mentioned, hashing is part running, part drinking. Well, as people started coming in from the run (the early arrivers, the good runners, are known as FRBs, or Front Running B*******), out come the drinks. The hashers cool down with water, sports drinks, and beer, and they get ready for the Circle and dinner. These people are serious - most have portable showers in their cars, small water reservoirs with hoses, and they shower right there by the side of the road (there is a bit of modesty - no full monty). Once the group is sufficiently cleaned and rested, at 8pm, the Circle is called to order. The Circle is just what it sounds like - everybody gets in a circle, and there are several toasts and songs to the hosts, to the first-timers (yes, I had to get in the circle and drink a beer), to the returning guests, and to a number of regulars who are simply called out by the hash grand master (this one was a German, and he got called out as much as he did the calling). Several other members get in on the act, and by the time the Circle is finished (about an hour later), everybody is in a good mood (some more than others). I didn't stay for dinner - I was exhausted and had an early train the next morning, but it was a great time. I was so exhausted, however, that I had a hard time sleeping that night - it was the best workout I have had since coming to Singapore.
All in all, hashing is a great way to meet a wide-ranging group of people (there are all kinds of expats as well as locals) who like to have fun. So, when you visit, if you fancy a hash, bring your running shoes. But don't bring your good ones - you never know when you'll end up in ankle-deep water 15 feet below the city's streets.